By Donnelly McCleland

This week, across the world, Christians are preparing to celebrate Easter. Europe is no different, except that a growing proportion of churches are migrant churches – congregations comprised of migrants from multiple, diverse nations – becoming deeply entrenched in a continent which is increasingly secular (especially the West). The ‘nones’ – those who are increasingly rejecting organised religion, even in countries where faith is typically at the core of their very identity – are growing in numbers across Europe every day. But while the ‘Global North’ becomes increasingly secular and non-religious, the ‘Global South’ is far more spiritually focused, across all the world’s major religions. Demographics also play a significant role as negative birth rates in more industrialised and economically affluent nations draw increasing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers from developing nations which have much higher birth rates. Similarly, Western cultures have a stronger emphasis on individualism, while non-Western cultures value community.

Many migrants from developing nations come from cultures where community and familial connections play a vastly more influential role than in Western cultures. Thus, there is a tendency to gravitate towards others with similar cultural values, even if from different nations. Since Christianity was birthed in the Middle East, among cultures where community was a vital component of society, the concept of discipleship naturally carried a communal focus. There are several instances in Scripture where entire families came to a saving knowledge of Christ (Acts 10:2, Acts 11:14, Acts 16:31-34, Acts 18:8, etc.). Examples are not limited to Scripture but have been repeated across the ages. Acts 2 emphasises the life-giving value of living in community. Migrants to Europe often bring this deep sense of togetherness to a continent which, for several reasons, has become increasingly insular and inward-focused. Local church communities are being stretched to view evangelism, missions and church planting in vastly different ways. The focus is less on events and much more on relationships, ‘accidental’ encounters, and natural, day-to-day life. The result is often a much more vibrant network of people from different origins and backgrounds, ‘forced’ together by similar challenges such as social integration, language, and economic inequality.

The movement of asylum seekers, economic migrants, and internally displaced people is changing the religious landscape and spiritual climate of Europe, though it is not only Christianity influencing this change. However, European evangelical ministries and Christian organisations are being challenged to reshape their institutions and rethink their understanding of ministry.

Israel Oluwole Olofinjana, a Baptist minister from Nigeria now serving in Essex (southeast of England), explained in a Christianity Today article (October 2022): “This [migration] has meant a shift in not only what European churches look like, but how church is done.” He emphasised the importance of this shift in thinking. “You cannot be talking about dynamic gospel work in Europe and not think of migrant and diaspora Christians as a key element of what you think and do,” he said. “They are becoming central to European theology, wrestling with issues around Christian social ethics, migration issues, and the mission of the Church at large.”

While much of the Western world has become polarised on the topic of migration and asylum, the Church should not follow suit but rather embrace the tremendous potential within such movements of people. The early Church grew exponentially through the dispersion of faithful followers of Christ, often due to persecution, but also through the natural movement of people – a principle evident in God’s dealings with Israel, called to display His character to surrounding nations as He led them to different places, often not of their choosing. It is important to keep this in mind as one comes into contact with migrants in our own contexts, that many carry huge potential to grow our indigenous church communities in wonderful ways, and that the Lord has brought them into our midst – often not of their choosing but due to a variety of circumstances – to change us or for them to be changed through their contact with followers of Christ.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For the Lord to continue doing a wonderful work of weaving migrants into the fabric of Europe and, in so doing, to revive His Church and build His Kingdom
  • For European believers to embrace the change migrants bring to their communities and for the courage to forge new, more integrated churches
  • For the larger Body of Christ throughout the world to become more sensitive to what the Lord is doing through migrants in their nations